Open Ice: Trade deadline wrap
The fantasy spin on all the NHL trade deadline action
After a couple of consecutive seasons with a fantasy-friendly trade deadline, there isn't a sweeping list of recommendations following the trade action on Tuesday and Wednesday in the NHL. Ray Whitney, Tomas Kaberle, Dan Hamhuis and Sheldon Souray all remain in their current digs. We did get several low-key acquisitions that could have a ripple effect, and there seemed to be a theme involving "change of scenery" prospects.
Poni to the Pens: The biggest fish for fantasy owners is Alexei Ponikarovsky. Poni, available in 50 percent of ESPN leagues, is leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs to join the offensively diverse Pittsburgh Penguins. With Chris Kunitz healthy again the Pens are getting some decent reinforcements for their top six. Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Bill Guerin are likely to remain as the top line, with the best spot for Ponikarovsky likely on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko. That would bump Pascal Dupuis out of the top six, which is unlikely to have much impact on fantasy owners. Poni is definitely a strong upgrade over Dupuis and he has a history of performing well with strong centermen (Mats Sundin). Malkin should benefit from the new situation and start getting more points at even strength (that means plus/minus). Poni is also in a much better situation with the exodus of talent from the Leafs in recent weeks. Consider him as a strong option that is likely to score 15 points over the final 19 games.
Oilers, Ducks swap No. 2 defensemen: Fantasy owners shouldn't react too strongly to the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks trading established defensemen. Ryan Whitney joins an Oilers blue line where he will play second fiddle to Sheldon Souray (expected to be healthy within a week) and Lubomir Visnovsky joins a Ducks blue line with Scott Niedermayer established at the helm. Neither player jumps in value on paper because of the move, but it would be worth monitoring the situation in case the change of scenery helps. Naturally, you need to pick up either player if he is available, which Visnovsky is in more than 30 percent of leagues.
Fresh start for Wolski, Mueller: The trade with probably the most raw talent changing hands is the deal which saw the Colorado Avalanche ship Wojtek Wolski to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter. All three players have been considered, at one time or another, to be up-and-coming top-six forwards, but Wolski is the only proven commodity at this point. He is almost certain to line up with Shane Doan on a regular basis and should play on the first power-play unit. While there are obvious concerns about his plus/minus, it's no more concerning than when he was with the Avalanche. The obvious advantage is that he should get a more important role with the desert dogs, but it may not be enough to increase his value.
Mueller is the fantasy gamble to look at in this deal. He gets a brand-new start in Denver and, while he is unlikely to land on the top line, Matt Duchene is a pretty good consolation prize as a linemate. Mueller looked to be on the way to earning his top-10 draft pick pedigree after his rookie season, but seems to have lost his way over the past two seasons with the Coyotes. In the same way Benoit Pouliot and Guillaume Latendresse were re-energized by swapping clubs earlier this season, expect Mueller to take his game up a notch with the Avalanche. It is doubtful, however, that he can step up enough to be of any use to fantasy owners, but the upside is there to at least keep him on the radar. Porter is also a high-profile prospect, having won the 2007-08 Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player in the U.S., and has been putting up quality numbers in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage over the past two seasons (75 points in 94 games). A young trio of Duchene, Mueller and Porter could be a strong threat for the Avs in the near future.
Purcell, Boyd get change of scenery: Continuing with the theme of a fresh start for a stalled prospect, Teddy Purcell moves on to the Tampa Bay Lightning after a slow and uninspiring start to his NHL career with the Los Angeles Kings. The part of the move that's intriguing is that the Lightning have a plethora of skilled forwards yet more than enough room to make Purcell a consistent top-six forward, skating with all-star-level talent. While Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie are close to set in stone as a first line, there are still Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone and Alex Tanguay for Purcell to try to line up with. Dustin Boyd has been in the NHL a bit longer than Purcell, but he has been buried on the Calgary Flames' depth chart the whole time. He is another player to keep an eye on should the Nashville Predators decide to give him a look on a scoring line.
Kings add veterans: This is more of a side note than anything, but there is some room to play with on the Kings' top six and both Jeff Halpern and Fredrik Modin have experience on scoring lines. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Ryan Smyth are the top line, with Michal Handzus Alexander Frolov and Jarret Stoll as the second line. Wayne Simmonds is also in the mix for top-level ice time. So it really depends on Modin or Halpern generating instant chemistry with someone if either is to have an impact. It's unlikely, but should be monitored.
Bit defensemen swap: There was a flurry of depth-chart defensemen trading hands over the last few days, but few are going to have any major fantasy impact. Derek Morris was interesting as a Boston Bruin because he was paired with Zdeno Chara, but he likely has little value back in the desert with the Coyotes again. Denis Grebeshkov, an underrated offensive defenseman who found himself low on the depth chart with the Edmonton Oilers, moves to a team with even more defensemen ahead of him in the Nashville Predators. It's tough to see him breaking out there. The Ottawa Senators acquired Andy Sutton for his physical qualities and the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Jordan Leopold for his defensive qualities. Neither should be on a fantasy owner's radar. Mathieu Schneider is an interesting grab by the Coyotes. The team certainly looks stronger after all its deadline deals, and while Schneider has clearly lost a step, he still has a wicked point shot. With Ed Jovanovski still doing the job on the power play adequately it is debatable whether or not Schneider could land a role with any significance. Milan Jurcina is back with the Washington Capitals. He started to emerge as a No. 6 fantasy defenseman with the team in 2008-09 thanks to his penalty minutes and mild scoring potential. With Mike Green still leading the charge and now Corvo joining the Caps' defense, there isn't much wiggle room for other players like Jurcina. Chris Chelios with the Atlanta Thrashers? Impressive at his age, but of no interest to you.
Luca Caputi is a nice offensive weapon for the Leafs' future. Scoring wingers are never a bad acquisition. Remember his name as early as next season as he has enjoyed a few cups of coffee with the Penguins already. He could fit well with Phil Kessel. Justin Pogge now heads to his third team in three years, as he looks for somewhere to continue his development. Remember for deep keeper leagues that he is still young and still has potential down the road. Scott Walker has a legitimate chance to accrue some fantasy statistics as a Washington Capital, but it all depends on his role. He would be fighting for third-line ice time against Eric Belanger (also acquired in deadline deal) Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr. He and Fehr bring a similar skill set to the table at this point, so Walker will have to make an immediate impact while Chimera is still on the injured reserve. Even so, his contributions will be mild at best and any real value will come from plus/minus and penalty minutes. And that's if he stays healthy. Playing in the background will also be Belanger, who has had flashes of value over the years due to his linemates at the time. With the amount of talent on the Capitals' roster, it is highly unlikely he will find himself on a scoring line without injuries occurring higher up the depth chart. Lee Stempniak will be stuck too far down the Coyotes' depth chart to be of much use. There may be some room for him to sneak onto the second power-play unit, but unless the changes the Coyotes made at the deadline make their power play a lot more effective, Stempniak shouldn't make much noise. James Sheppard didn't get the expanded role with the Minnesota Wild that I had hoped for this season, but with Belanger leaving town, there is a chance his ice time could go up. Maybe he can give us a preview for next season.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.
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